Appeal filed in Quilcene recall attempt

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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QUILCENE — Supporters of a movement to recall two Quilcene Fire Department commissioners are hoping an appeal to the state Supreme Court will give them a stronger case to present as they gather signatures for a recall election.

Fire Commissioners David Ward and Michael Whittaker are the subjects of a recall action, with accusations leveled in June that the two commissioners misused district funds and falsified meeting minutes.

Recall organizers have filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court asking that it reinstate three of the recall charges that were struck down by Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie in October.

Laurie ruled that a recall action can proceed against Whittaker and Ward but also threw out all but one count, which was that the two deliberately falsified meeting minutes.

Port Townsend attorney Peggy Ann Bierbaum filed the appeal Feb. 21.

The Supreme Court has until March 18 to either restore the three charges or decide the brief has no merit.

If the court rules in Bierbaum’s favor, Whittaker and Ward could appeal that decision.

“This is very important because our elected officials have abused their power,” said Kit Kittredge, a recall proponent who is president of the Quilcene Fire Department’s volunteer organization.

“This needs to go to the voters so they can decide.”

Allegations of improper conduct stemmed from the board’s creation of an $800-a-month job for Ward in January 2010.

Ward was paid $800 a month to retrieve and decipher district data from outdated computer disks.

In October, Laurie struck down three recall charges, ruling that the creation of a chief operating officer, changing the start date of Ward’s duties in that position and continuing in that position after the new chief was hired were not grounds for a recall.

In her brief, Bierbaum said all four charges provide a more complete picture.

“The voters . . . should not be denied their constitutionally protected right to evaluate whether Commissioners Ward and Whittaker should be recalled for misusing their public offices for personal benefit,” the brief said.

“They should not be limited in their recall action to a single, isolated act with no contextual information to assist them in evaluating the propriety of the Commissioners’ course of conduct,” it continued.

If the state Supreme Court rules against restoring the charges, the recall will proceed using the ballot language Laurie wrote.

The language for Ward’s ballot synopsis, which resembles that for Whittaker, is as follows:

“Should Commissioner David Ward Jefferson County Fire Protection District Number 2 be recalled from office for misfeasance, malfeasance and violation of his oath of office because it is alleged and the voters should determine if he, on or about Feb. 9, 2010 directed the district secretary to alter the minutes of the Fire District meeting held on Feb. 8, 2010 to reflect the adoption of Resolution 20-02 which authorized the district’s participation in the Public Employees Retirement system even though the resolution was not adopted or discussed at the meeting, and secured the signatures of the other two commissioners outside of an open public meeting.”

The amount of signatures needed for a recall election to proceed are based on the results of the last election.

Both commissioners were unopposed in their last election, with Whittaker receiving 554 votes in 2009 and Ward receiving 510 votes in 2007.

For a recall election to go forward, proponents must gather 194 signatures to recall Whittaker and 179 to recall Ward.

Recall proponents have 180 days to gather the signatures and submit them to the Auditor’s Office, after which time an election will be scheduled.

Kittredge said the recall has caused morale problems in the department.

“In a volunteer organization, you need everyone to pull together,” she said.

“A vote of no confidence is a big deal, and it has made it harder for us to find a new chief.”

Robert Lowe resigned as chief June 23, citing interference from Whittaker and Ward as the reason for leaving.

He began work as assistant chief of support services for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue on July 18.

The search for a new Quilcene chief began in December and ended at a Feb. 13 meeting where it was determined in executive session that none of the seven applicants would work out, according to Commissioner Herb Beck.

Interim Chief Bob Moser was then named as permanent chief for one year “until we can get some of these problems worked out,” Beck said.

Beck and Ward voted in favor of Moser while Whittaker abstained, Beck said.

“It’s important to get someone in charge, but we aren’t in any rush to get a new chief,” Beck said.

“We have some time to get it right.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 28. 2012 6:17PM
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